GENOA – In 1977, Rob Erickson, an expert on suburban coyote control and removal, caught more than 200 red foxes in less than a month and used the proceeds from selling their pelts to buy a house.
If he were to repeat this achievement in today’s market, he would make barely enough to buy a used car.
In part because of the reduced pricing of skins, the practice of fur trapping has continued to decline over the years, and Erickson said he doesn’t foresee it improving at any time in the near future.
“Raccoons have increased three to five times in the last few years, and to run fur lines for $2 raccoon pelts along with the cost of gas and traps, which are expensive, it’s hard to break even,” said Erickson, who has been trapping for more than 50 years and professionally for 35. “DeKalb has a large amount of distemper on the west side of Route 23, and that usually happens with more interaction with wild species through overpopulation.”
Groenewold Fur and Wool Co. in Forreston has muskrat furs ranging from $2 to $5.50 and raccoon furs ranging from $1 to $16 for dried skins depending on the size. Erickson said that a few years ago, muskrats could go for up to $15 and raccoons as high as $40.
Some of the most common animals trapped in the DeKalb County area include muskrats, raccoons, gray foxes and mink.
Erickson mainly focuses on coyotes when trapping, and as a member of Scientific Wildlife Management, a group trying to resolve incidents between humans and wild animals, works with clients to properly survey an animal problem and effectively deal with the animal, whether through relocation or death.
While some people trap for recreation, traps are often deployed to keep a species from suburbanizing and becoming a nuisance. Pelts can then be sold to local buyers or auctions to be used for clothing and other resources.
“Trappers provide a very important service to the community, but if [trappers] are not going to get paid for it, it’s going to discourage people from going out there,” Erickson said. “A lot of people are utilizing the fur themselves rather than giving it away for around $2.”
Seasoned trappers are able to skin, scrape and stretch their own pelts for clothing, decoration or other household uses.
Numerous factors influence the amount trappers received for pelts from year to year, such as current exchange rates and the amount of stored furs in buyers’ warehouses. A common fur in Illinois, such as raccoon, has a large number of skins in storage, which makes it unlikely the price will increase.
“People still have fur from the previous year because buyers will wait for indicators of prices for that year,” Erickson said. “The amount of nuisance animals will then rise because in bumper areas like DeKalb, no one will trap because the pelts are worthless.”
Mild winters also can significantly increase the population of animals targeted by trappers. Erickson said that an animal population can increase 18 percent to 20 percent from a mild winter because sick and old animals will not die off from the cold.
Trapping is regulated by the conservation branch of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. An education course is required before any applicant is allowed a license and seasons are determined by state biologists who evaluate any problems a particular species may pose and then determine how many of that animal can be collected.
“There’s not a lot of guys out here [trapping] in Illinois,” said Mike Dreska, 57, of Genoa, who has been a trapping instructor for 25 years. “Only about 3,500 licenses get sold in the state of Illinois per year. It can be hard work.”
Dreska works with the Genoa Township Highway Department, and now only traps recreationally, but his expertise has led him to aid in trapping across the world. He is sometimes recognized in his own hometown, as was the case when a friend of his stopped him in the middle of the road to see whether he could trap beavers for him.
Erickson said that in the 1970s, fur was the second biggest export in the U.S. behind produce.
However, trade issues with nations such as Greece and China, two of the biggest fur purchasers, also have influenced pricing, Dreska added.
Last year, repercussions from the Greek debt crisis forced the Greek government to close all banks, leaving some fur brokers unable to transfer funds for recent purchases from international auctions.
Furs that couldn’t be bought in cash or from an outside account sat in storage.
In Russia, Dreska said that depreciation of the ruble, among other factors, has caused fur sales to fluctuate.
Countries such as Russia and China have a greater need for furs, which are used as insulation for winter clothing. Unlike the United States, most workers in northern countries rely on public transportation, leaving them exposed to the elements much longer than people who own vehicles.
“There are forces way beyond our control running things,” Erickson said.